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Archive for December, 2008

I work in the video game industry.  I play video games.  (Probably too much.)  I enjoy seeing other people have fun with video games.  (The brand new family Wii is a great source of fun for the sideline jockeys like me.)  I believe that video games have vast potential in storytelling, education, and plain old fun.

Yet, I have a decidedly strong retro streak in me.  One of my favorite games of all time is a little tabletop shuffleboard game.  (I’ve not played it in years, but so maybe it’s the nostalgia factor speaking, but I love that game.)  There’s just something wonderful about a tactile experience in gaming.  I love pinball games.  I love board games.  I love card games.  I love volleyball.

There is much that video game designers can learn from other games.

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News Nuggets

I happened upon two interesting articles today:

What Carriers Aren’t Eager to Tell You About Texting

Worlds.com Files Suit Against NCsoft – Every Other MMO Company To Follow?

Regarding the first, I’ve always believed that the $15 subscription fee in MMOs has little bearing on what it actually costs to provide the service. That’s especially true as time goes on and technology improves, making maintenance costs go down. Strong competitors, like upstart “RMT” or other F2P games could make the genre more honest.

Regarding the second, it seems like a bit of a frivolous case, but if it finds footing, I’d hate to see the genre smothered or costs go up (which would have the same effect, just delayed a bit). This is yet another squeeze on the MMO business. I do have to admire the audacity of Worlds.com, and their timing. NCSoft is over a barrel, at least Stateside, and makes for a much easier target than Blizzard. It will be interesting to see where this lawsuit winds up.

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I don’t like cars.  The proposed bailout of the big three car manufacturers is utterly repugnant to me as a taxpayer, a consumer, a technologist, and simply because I think cars are a waste.  To be fair, I like what cars can do, as far as transporting people and stuff relatively quickly and safely… my opposition is rooted in what I see as wasted potential and extortionist costs.

Planned obsolescence is a marketing strategy that attempts to force consumers to buy more stuff, specifically to replace stuff they already had.  It’s at the heart of why I loathe the car industry, and cars as a product of their waste.

Cars are made of thousands of parts, and several of those are designed specifically to decay and break.  That’s how the repair industry stays afloat, and why new cars keep getting built.  (Conspicuous consumption can do only so much.)  The blasted things are built to fail.  We have materials technology capable of building cars that run clean, cheap, safely and for decades, but that would cost the manufacturers in the long run, so they don’t make them.  The American Way is “consume and discard”… a mentality that is paying impressive dividends lately.

Software is similar, with some companies going so far as to intentionally omit backwards compatibility, despite being very easy to incorporate.  It’s been argued before that the game industry is as shallow as it is because we don’t learn from our mistakes.  We can’t, since games more than a few years old aren’t playable on new machines, and old machines break and can’t be fixed or replaced easily.  We’re stuck in a treadmill of our own design, churning out happy little reruns for zombie lemming gamers. *coughEAcough*

What about people?

We certainly don’t last forever.  We decay, fall apart, run down.  (I hate dentistry, too, but that’s another rant.)  But who is the consumer that replaces us, and with what?  (No tangents here on trophy spouses, nope, not here.)  Is God consuming us and discarding us when He’s done with the experiment?  Hmm… I think not.  Rather, I think that we are given time on this world to accomplish certain things, and to learn certain things.  In a way, we are our own consumer in that context.  We are given limited time so that we can appreciate choices and consequences, and learn how to think and decide.  We have to learn to sieze the day and act, rather than be acted upon.  We’re literally on the clock.

So how do we spend our precious, limited time, and what do we get out of it?

Hmm…

Appreciate what you have, because it may be gone tomorrow.  Cherish your time, and be grateful for your possessions.  Reduce, reuse, recycle, because you cannot keep consuming without producing something of value to offset it.  Above all, let those you love know that they are valuable to you, even if it’s just by giving them your time.  We’ve heard this before.  It’s still good advice.  That’s why we keep hearing it.

It feels good to turn something as repugnant as a concept borne in greed to the light side, even I had to run a tangent to get there.  I know, bad little consumer lemming.

*grin*

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Wow.  I used to read Karl Denninger’s Market Ticker every day, despite my utter disgust with his profanity.  He has a good bead on what is happening in the economy and the regulation thereof.  I finally tuned him out when he decided to support Obama, despite standing pretty squarely in contrast to the man’s policies.  I just don’t understand some people.

Anyway, on a whim, I made the rounds of Mish, Calculated Risk and even picked up the Market Ticker today.  Denninger’s in fine form, but even he‘s bothered about Hal Turner.

In Denninger’s article, he links to Turner’s site, where you’ll find him effectively calling for mob “justice” against the banksters who ruined this country.  Now, I’d like to see these ripoff artists get their just desserts, but in my mind, that’s something that comes by due process of law.  Mob rule is best avoided.

Of course, as Denninger notes, there is a very real sense of betrayal, as it is the government itself, the stewards of the law, who are aiding and abetting the fraud.  (Check out The Creature from Jekyll Island for kicks.)  In many ways, it’s the regulators’ fault that we’re in the position we’re in.

That said, I know it’s cliche, but two wrongs do not make a right.  Descending into mindless mob rule, even if it’s fueled by righteous (or self-righteous) anger, is not going to make things better.  As much as we all love Batman for being willing to stand up to the bad guys, even he has a code of ethics that keeps him from total anarchy.

We cannot be vigilantes and live outside of the law, if we hope to maintain our country.

At the same time, if a country puts its citizens in a position where open revolt is the only possibility for real change (Obama’s “change” is a joke), perhaps the things that are worth maintaining have already been forsaken.

Please take the high road, and stand for the principles of liberty and honesty that this country were founded on… even if and especially if those in power have forsaken them.  Someone needs to do the right thing, and it isn’t vigilante justice.

In a world gone mad, it’s still best to resist the urge to join the fray.

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Tired of grinding through the early WoW game? Combine the Refer-a-Friend XP boost with these items,

Exquisite Sunderseer Mantle

Exceptional Stormshroud Shoulders

and you can ignore the WoW Old World quicker than ever before!

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In lieu of writing my own biting commentary on the utter inanity of overcommercialization of sacred holy days, especially on the cusp of an economic depression, I merely submit to you this latest masterpiece from Sam Logan:

Sam and Fuzzy, Happy Giftfest 2008!

P.S.  Why have I taken this long to notice that “lieu” is basically a Frenchy version of “lie”?  So… I’d write about how annoyed I am with the whole economy and corruption of the holidays, but I’ll lie and say that things are great here and that I love drivers who cut you off in heavy snow conditions.

(I’ll be back later with something less… snarky, but this is all I have time for now, and it’s cathartic.  So there.  Pthbthbthb.)

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BBB wrote a great post that deftly touches on a number of aspects to the modern world of WoW, and how it has changed from the Burning Crusade days. I’d suggest a quick read over here:

Is WoW Stronger than Ever?

I love physics. Quantum physics are especially interesting, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle drives a lot of weirdness. One of the most interesting thought experiments based on the theory is the plight of Schrodinger’s Cat. More than once, I’ve wondered what application this might have to games. Much of it comes back to the concept of predictability, and just how much of it we actually want. (more…)

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EVE Exploit

There has been a bit of a kerfluffle about this incident, where an EVE exploiter broke the system and released the dogs of war.

Stealin’ Stuff in EVE

I’ve seen more than one commentator use this as an excuse to whine about RMT, considering that the pirate in question was able to translate his ill-gotten gains into subscription time via the GTC-ISK translation.  (Buying subscription time with in-game currency.)

I’ve written before that making time and money fungible in a game economy allows for more players to buy into the game, because they can do so on their terms.  That’s the nature of a real economy, and giving players options in line with that makes for a more robust game population as well as a more interesting in-game economy.  Puzzle Pirates, for example, can be played to its fullest without spending a dime.  Other players subsidize parts of the game by buying doubloons, and other gamers can trade the in-game currency for those doubs.  You can either pay with time (and someone else’s money via the doub exchange) or with money of your own.  That flexibility is excellent for the user, and Three Rings still gets money for doubloons, since someone had to buy them.

No, the real villain of this little morality play is the exploit. Taking advantage of a loophole in the game code to generate disproportionate wealth is against the game rules.  What is done with that money is a completely separate concern, and as far as CCP is concerned, the GTC-ISK trade function is completely legitimate.

Exploits are one thing, and economies are quite another.  There are certainly exploits in economies, but in this particular case, the game bug that became the currency fountain is the problem (as well as those who exploit it), not the “RMT-lite” ability to buy game time with game currency.

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Market Segmentation

This is one other reason why the subscription model isn’t necessarily the idea for a business.  Most markets are composed of a variety of customers, and kludging them all into a “one size fits all” may be counterproductive.  Microtransactions and “choose your payment plan” sorts of options for MMOs can widen the user base, which can be crucial if the game design requires a critical mass of players to actually be fun.

I can’t add too much to the article that I linked to, so I’m being lazy this weekend.  Just go read what he has to say, and hopefully it will be obvious that once again, the game industry is behind the curve when it comes to business experience.  Hordes of fanboys cite WoW as the epitome of success in the industry, but that success is not just a triumph of design and marketing, but also a lucky stroke of timing.  Blizzard hit it big, and has warped the industry, but their success isn’t founded in ideal business practices.

The scary part is that they are leaving money on the table.  WoW could be making even more money if they were smarter about how they ran the business model.

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World of Warcraft has been compared to a theme park before.  The static world, colorful presentation and “gaming on rails” all lead to easy comparisons.  I won’t belabor those elements, since it’s enough for the sake of this article to frame the game in a theme park comparison.

No, what’s important to me at this point is the cost to the patron, and how the analogy can be used to illustrate the concept of microtransactions. (more…)

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